Steelers Notebook: OT Smith back in lineup after surgery in offseason

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Back surgery often is not a good sign for a football player, particularly one who weighs more than 300 pounds.

For Marvel Smith, it was a blessing.

Smith had surgery in mid-December to remove a herniated disk in his lower back that was jammed against a nerve and causing a leg to go numb. It had bothered him much of the season but became quite evident Dec. 16 against Jacksonville.

"His left leg was numb and he couldn't even feel it," line coach Larry Zierlein said. "He'll go to the wall. I think his surgery gives him a chance to hold up. I'm not concerned about that."

Nor is Smith, who went through both practices on the first day of the Steelers' minicamp.

Dr. Joseph Maroon's December surgery should make for a better Smith in 2008. And that's one key to improving the overall play of the offensive line.

Smith felt like the lion who had a thorn pulled out of his paw.

"It's really unbelievable how much better I feel. Right after I had it done, the next day I felt better.

"Last year was the first time it affected me to where I had to block it out and not think about it and stuff like that.

"Before, it was just part of the game, [accepting that] I'm going to be sore for the most part."

Rookie released

The Steelers released their first rookie, one of their most promising undrafted players.

Dorien Bryant, a punt returner from Purdue, failed his physical. The Steelers, who did not say why he failed, likely will sign someone to replace him.

Several NFL teams competed after the draft to sign Bryant, who is 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, and also listed as a wide receiver. The Steelers are trying to find someone to return punts and kickoffs for them, a job held last season by Allen Rossum, released this year.

Among the candidates are Mewelde Moore, signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Vikings to serve as third-down back, and wide receivers Willie Reid, Jeremy Bloom, who spent part of last season on the practice squad, and Santonio Holmes.

No. 1 pick unhappy

Rookie halfback Rashard Mendenhall expressed some dismay over what happened to his brother, Walter, who left the University of Illinois football team recently.

Walter Mendenhall got a scholarship to Illinois in 2004 in what was regarded at the time as a package deal to get his younger brother the following year, and it worked.

"Yeah, they did not want him to return," Rashard said yesterday.

"He would have been a fifth-year senior but he is graduating from Illinois and then he will be at Illinois State, getting his one-year master's."

Mendenhall did not seem happy with Illinois nor head coach Ron Zook over the situation.

"Yeah it upset me. But to tell you the truth, with how things were, it didn't surprise me too much because it just wasn't in our favor over there."

Ward, Polamalu watch

Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu had knee surgery after the season and neither is practicing at minicamp.

Both said they should be ready to go by training camp. Ward repaired tears in his MCL and PCL.

Polamalu also had a torn PCL but he said his surgery was more to clean up loose tissue and not to repair the damaged ligament because surgery, he said, would not improve it.

Defensive end Aaron Smith, who had surgery last December to repair a torn biceps, also did not practice.

Faneca's number issued

The Steelers have been known to unofficially retire certain numbers by not issuing them.

That won't be the case for seven-time Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca, who signed this year with the New York Jets as a free agent.

Rookie Tony Hills, their fourth-round draft choice from Texas, wore No. 66 yesterday.

Other rookie numbers are Mendenhall (34), wide receiver Limas Sweed (14), linebacker Bruce Davis (53), quarterback Dennis Dixon (2), linebacker Mike Humpal (55) and free safety Ryan Mundy (29).

Undrafted rookie quarterback Mike Potts of William & Mary was born in Pittsburgh and still has relatives, including grandparents, living here. His parents, who now live in Middleton, Del., are Thomas Jefferson High School graduates. He will wear No. 8.

New veterans' numbers include center Justin Hartwig (62) and running back Moore (21).


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